The beauty of Trail Care Crew visits is that we strive to inspire collaborative relationships among different groups of trail users: mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers, equestrians, moto-users, you name it. Sustainability means more than erosion-resistant, it also means a trail system in which people find mutual worth. If they value something together, they will care for it together. And in order to do that, they all need to have a stake in the trail’s development.
During our visits, we are usually hosted by a mountain biking organization. Last weekend in Columbia, SC, we were hosted by the Friends of Harbison State Forest, a multi-use group of different trail enthusiasts, and Midlands-SORBA, the newly-minted mountain biking club. What’s special about the Friends group is that their title in and of itself is all inclusive. From a land manager’s perspective, these existing partnerships can save them the step of ensuring that the trail proposal considers multiple uses. In our Trailbuilding School, we emphasize the importance of at the very least considering all the users of your trail. This way, you not only make sure that different people will value your trail, but that you attract a wide variety of stakeholders who can together share the load of building and maintaining your trails. And this, too, will appeal to land managers.
We helped the Friends group and Midlands SORBA understand key user management principles that can lend to positive relationships on the trail. The keys to managing a system like Harbison State Forest, which sees heavy usage from all types of stakeholders due to its proximity to downtown is to program for your users. The user management principles are pretty straightforward: provide clear and concise signage (with trail etiquette notes), plan a stacked loop trail, accommodate differing skills levels, understand of how users use the trails differently, and incorporate good sightlines where needed.
The path to these partnerships and these trails is hard work. These people are dedicated to physical advocacy and not only does it show, but it pays off. Here’s a success story if we’ve ever heard one: the Friends group and Midlands-SORBA have the blessing of Harbison’s land manager to create a purpose-built mountain bike trail that is just as hard as they like, just as challenging as they like, and just as long as they like. He told the club, “this is the only opportunity you’ll have for a while to build as much trail as you want, the way you want, so have at it.” This opportunity came from hard work to develop relationships with the people who can make decisions that serve you…
Partnerships go a long way, so does ingenuity. We built about 1,000 feet of this new, challenging singletrack trail, taking advantage of a large, dry gully for some flowy bermed trail. In between two insloped turns, there was a short section of trail that fell rather quickly into the bottom of the gully, and our volunteers had the brilliant idea of armoring the low spot in order to allow riders to keep their momentum as they rode into the next turn, and prevent the low spot from puddling. The landscape was littered with large quartz rocks. If you’re a rock enthusiast, you know that quartz is rather heavy and doesn’t lend itself to easy transport, especially uphill. Four ingenious volunteers decided to risk losing their pants in order to get that hole armored, by golly! They took their belts off, strapped together two rogue hoes, and carried that rock up the darn hill.
We’re consistently impressed and amazed by a group’s ability to find solutions by working together. These groups deserve all the good things coming their way.